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A Bird's Eye View: June 21, 2013

Jamaica Bay Eight Months After Sandy

It’s a windless, humid June morning at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. As my wife and I walk the trail around the West Pond, insects incessantly bother us. A chipmunk crosses the path. There are a few ever-present robins, some gray catbirds with black caps and a female red-winged blackbird in a tree. What appear to be a few scruffy looking grackles fly in.

The trail approximately 1 and ½ miles has a breach from Hurricane Sandy. If we walk most of the way around, where it’s located, we’ll have a very long walk back that will tire my wife. There’ll also be little reward as there’s not much here. We walk a little further anyway. A mass of gulls and terns with silvery wings flashing are flying around a small island in the bay. There are two or three possible oystercatchers, with colorful red bills and flashing black and white wing patterns that land on shore. We’ll never get close to them. A few of the terns fly overhead holding small fish in their pointed bills as we turn around.

Part of a dock is near the pond. There are two night-herons by the shore, probably black-crowned ones. One flies out to the deeper water of the pond followed by the other, where they stand. A lone glossy ibis feeding, sticks its head in the silvery water. Overhead two crows are being chased by some male red-winged blackbirds. It always makes me laugh to see these larger highly intelligent birds being chased by smaller ones. Male red-wings are quite territorial.

We stay a while to take advantage of the strong breeze here which clears out the insects. The weather is changing as the sky has filled with clouds and rain is expected tonight. It’s low tide and ringing the shore there are sandy spots, rich brown ones and the greens. There are large areas of weed, not wet though not yet dry.  The scene resembles an impressionist’s palate.

Nearby is a male red-winged blackbird in a tall bush. It suddenly flies, red epaulets expanding like tiny twin bellows. Overhead a laughing gull calls out the sound for which it is named. Back at the Visitors Center my wife goes to our car where the dreaded Thursday New York Times puzzle awaits her and I walk off to see the breach on the trail.

There are a number of tree swallow boxes where these birds nest around the refuge and this morning a few have given us close looks. These 5.75-inch birds are a dark metallic blue on their backs, heads and the top part of their faces. Then abruptly at the bottom of the eye their faces and breasts are white leaving the false impression that they are eyeless. One stays atop its box for a while letting me close.

In the marsh is a platform nest that is occupied every year by ospreys. This morning there are two standing. One dips its head to tear a piece of fish, the staple of their diet. The other stands on a perch looking around.

In the pond there are dozens of gulls and terns flying while on the far shore there are a few great white egrets and one snowy egret. On the near shore are a number of resting Canada geese on light sand. The scene looks like a painting either before or after a storm.

The breach is quite wide making the other side of the path impossible to reach. A man nearby says this wasn’t here when last he came. A few benches have also disappeared.  Water from the bay flows into the manmade pond making this once heavily traveled area seem like a wild country. The breach is waiting an engineering assessment. Meanwhile there is a satellite photo of it by the information desk in the Visitors Center.

Back at the car my wife is making headway with the Times crossword puzzle and I go off for a look at the East Pond on the other side of Cross Bay Blvd. At Big John’s Pond there are several black-crowned night-herons standing motionless on the far shore and two are in trees. One at time, wings spread wide, others cross the pond to that side to be with their friends.

At the huge East Pond there are large mute swans in the water on the far side. Looking north there are seven of these birds whose 75-inch wing spans are propelling them to the pond’s far south end. As they pass I watch their out-stretched necks, which seem to curve downward in the middle then raise up holding their heads forward.

The A train rumbles by across the pond and jumbo jets silently descend into Kennedy. I never thought that these two urban artifacts would make me feel secure but they do now. There are the buzzing ZZZZZZZ sounds of unseen birds in the vegetation.  Everything here is so reassuring. Walking noisily into the blind I scare off a perching black-crowed night-heron, very close by. However another remains perching on a branch stump taking an occasional drink of water.

I’ve taken a number of pictures of wildflowers this morning and when I get back to the Visitors Center a young woman Park Ranger identifies them for me. I wonder if unconsciously I’ve focused on flowers today more than I would have because they imply rebirth. After what I’ve seen this morning that would be very welcome here.  When I get back to the car, my wife has finished the crossword puzzle a feat not always accomplished later in the week when the puzzle becomes increasingly difficult. A definite cause for celebration. It’s off to the Cross Bay Diner for lunch, the final part of our ritual of going to Jamaica Bay.